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Bankside occupies the area south side of the river, opposite The City.
In the 16th-century the authorities banished all the ungodly pursuits to the other side of the Thames, so it quickly filled up with bear-pits, brothels and theatres. The area became notorious for cutthroats, crime and squalor – not helped by the Clink Prison nearby.
When theatres first sprang up they were not like the upper-class establishments of today – they were open-air affairs with standing-room for peasants.
The Rose Theatre was the first to be built in 1586 (where Rose Alley runs today). That was followed by the Swan in 1596 and Shakespeare’s Globe in 1598.
The Globe’s life was cut short in 1613 when a dozy stagehand shot a cannon at the roof during a production of Henry VIII. It was reopened in 1614 with a tiled roof, but was demolished in 1642 by the Puritans. It has now been reconstructed as close as possible to the original design and stands next to the Tate Modern gallery.
Another form of entertainment that ran riot on Bankside were the brothels. Their code of conduct and opening times were regulated by the Bishop of Winchester, whose palace once stood near the Clink Prison Museum. (You can still see a few of the remains if you look to the right.)
When the puritanical Oliver Cromwell came to power in the 1650s he cleaned up Bankside and banished the brothels. Most of the land was turned over to gardens, and the ‘entertainment venues’ were replaced with small industrial plants – breweries, dyers’ yards and foundries.
A few of the public houses from this period still survive – most notably the Anchor Inn near Bankside Gallery.
Modern additions include the power station and the Millennium Bridge.
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